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Goals Group Counseling

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Counseling the Dually Diagnosed Female Offender


Counseling the Dually Diagnosed Female Offender

Massachusetts Correctional Institution - Framingham (MCI-Framingham} is the Massachusetts Department of Correction's only committing institution for female offenders. It is located in Framingham, Massachusetts, a large town located midway between Worcester and Boston. The prison was once known as "Framingham State Prison". MCI Framingham is the official name, and is favored.( Beckerman, A. (2002)

MCI-Framingham is a medium security correctional facility for female offenders. Several References note it as the oldest female correctional institution, which is still in operation, in the United States. It opened in 1877.

The prison houses both state and county offenders, as well as those awaiting sentencing. There are prisoners of a variety of classification levels. Sixty three percent of the inmates are there for non-violent offenses, most often involving drugs. There are few, if any, cells available to hold female prisoners elsewhere in the state, even pre-trail. As the only facility for female offenders, the prison is reported to be the most overcrowded in the state. Three-quarters of the women in this prison are mothers.( Beckerman, A. (2002))

Since women are a small percentage of the total number of the incarcerated, women's prisons have been seen as something of an "add-on" to the men's prison system. Typically they offer poorer facilities and fewer therapy, education, and job-training programs than men's prisons. Such programs can reduce an inmate's sentence, yet many female prisoners cannot participate in them. This means that women will leave prison without the vocational or life skills that might reduce the likelihood that they will return. And the poor quality of mental health care for a population in which one-third is estimated to suffer from serious mental illness is a crime in itself. (Bloom, B. (2004))

In the early days of MCI-F, women could be imprisoned for disobeying their husbands, drunkenness, adultery, prostitution, or simple homelessness. As Clara Barton, superintendent at Framingham in the 1880s, remarked, "three-fourths of the women in this prison are neither convicted of, nor sentenced for, crimes deemed worthy of trial by jury, but rather offenses against the good order and customs of society. [These] are not so much crimes against others as against the offender herself." Today, Rathbone remarks, "men are still punished mostly for crimes against property and people ... while the majority of women continue to be punished for transgressions against conventional morality, namely, for having sex and getting high." (Bloom, B. (2004))

The demographics are shifting in this regard, driven by a sharp increase in the rate of property offenses such as embezzlement, fraud, and forgery committed by women. But Rathbone has a point. In 2002, about 38 percent of women in state prisons were doing time for drug or public-order violations--a category that includes prostitution, weapons violations, and drunk driving--compared to 28 percent of men. What's more, just over half of men in state prisons are serving time for violent crimes, while only one-third of women are there for similar offenses. So crime--or at least punishment--remains very much a gendered affair in the United States. (Chesney-Lind, M., & Immarigeon, R. (2004)) About 4,000 women are admitted to MCI-Framingham each year. Their histories typically are riddled with trauma and abuse. Incarceration commonly exacerbates existing mental health problems, resulting in self-destructive behaviors such as suicidal ideation and self-inflicted harm. Many inmates also have substance abuse histories and/or have engaged in behaviors (such as sharing needles) that put them at risk for transmission of infectious diseases.( Kampfner, C. J. (2005))

The number of women in United States prisons and jails has been increasing for the past decade. At the end of 1993, there were more than 55,000 women incarcerated in federal and state prisons. These women accounted for 5.8 percent of the total state and federal prison population and 9.3 percent of the county jail population. Between 1980 and 1993, the growth rate for the female prison population increased by approximately 313 percent for women compared to 182 percent for men. Massachusetts has seen a growth in the number of women in their correctional facilities as well. In 1990, there were 511 incarcerated women in Massachusetts correctional facilities; by 1995, this number had grown 596 women. These women represented six percent of the total offender population in Massachusetts. Because of this national increase, the United States has had to build many new correctional facilities for both men and women (Knight, J. W. (2006)). To respond to the growing population of female offenders, there needs to be an understanding of the makeup of this population in order to identify their needs. (Kampfner, C. J. (2005))

Nationally, women prisoners are ethnically diverse. African-American women make up about 46 percent of women in prison and 43 percent of women in jail. Caucasian women comprise 36 percent of women in prison and 38 percent of women in jail whereas Hispanic women comprise 14 percent of women in prison and 16 percent of women in jail. At the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Framingham (MCI-Framingham), the only state facility for women, Caucasian women make up 66 percent of the offender population with African-American women comprising 19 percent and Hispanic women comprising 14 percent.( Knight, J. W. (2006))

Family demands on women prisoners differ greatly than that of men prisoners. Over 75 percent of incarcerated women are mothers, most of which have two or more children. It has been estimated that, on average each day, 165,000 children are affected by their mother's incarceration. Most of these women are single parents. Over seventy percent of incarcerated mothers had custody of their dependent children before they were incarcerated. However, only 50 percent of incarcerated fathers had custody of their children prior to incarceration. Furthermore, between 8 and 10 percent of women are pregnant when they enter prison.( Marr, M. (2006))




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